No civility on Capitol Hill

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

Every election cycle produces heated rhetoric but some in our country think partisan bashing, hate-filled comments and bitterness have reached new lows. One political veteran observes that Congress hasn’t been this divided since the 1850s, a period marked by such inability to find common ground that we eventually made war on ourselves.

I read an interesting article about the topic of civility in the Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah) written by Michael DeGroote. Not surprisingly, civility has been particularly on the minds of Mormons in this year’s election, Mormons having been the object of much incivility in our nation and until recently having two candidates running for the office of president. The Mormon Church is still on the receiving end of much hate-filled verbal attacks and even some destructive actions as a result of their major financial contributions to defeat California’s voter referendum expanding the definition of marriage.

Reader poll

When the Civility Project was disbanded in January 2011, who was the only U.S. senator who had signed the pledge?

  • Saxby Chambliss 57%
  • Harry Reid 0%
  • John McCain 0%
  • Joe Lieberman 43%

7 total votes.

Michael DeGroote described a now disbanded effort intended to bring our political leaders together. Mark DeMoss, a conservative Republican, and Lanny Davis, a liberal Democrat, founded the Civility Project in 2009. DeMoss has advised Mitt Romney for five years and Davis was White House counsel under Bill Clinton and worked for Hillary Clinton during her 2008 election run. Together, DeMoss and Davis had seen an enormous amount of ugliness from their respective political camps, equally generated on both sides. The Civility Project intended to raise the level of political discourse by inviting every senator and congressman and state governor to sign a simple three point pledge that read:

  1. I will be civil in my discourse and behavior.
  2. I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them.
  3. I will stand against incivility where and when I see it.

The Civility Project had nothing to do with whether or not people agreed with each other. Davis and DeMoss, the group’s founders, had sharp disagreements on many issues. The aim was that one could be very much opposed to another person’s ideas or behaviors and yet do so with civility.

The Civility Project mailed a packet to these 585 leaders. Not surprisingly, the firebrand commentator Bill O’Reilly, who makes his living be being uncivil, said it was a “dopey” idea. Our leaders must have agreed with Reilly, because two years later only three Congressmen (two Republicans, one independent) had signed the pledge and DeMoss and Davis disbanded the whole thing. Even in defeat DeMoss was philosophical, saying: “I’d rather lose on the high road than win in the gutter.”

What might it mean to our community discourse if people signed such a covenant? What could it mean in your neighborhood, in your own family? What could it mean in the religious community? The world has a long way to go towards finding the way to disagree with each other, even very strongly, without degenerating to the level of personal destruction.

Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at creede@wesleymonumental.org.